Using the framework of Bloom's Taxonomy, Dr. Pilgrim's work can be broken into (1) lecture classes that deal with synthesis and (2) evaluation and skills classes that focus more on the analysis and application of concepts (Bloom, Hastings, Madaus, 1971).
Synthesis and evaluation. Journalism 190, Introduction to Mass Media, asks students to explore the impact of mass media on American culture, society, and self-governance. The direct lecture method has traditionally been used in the course, where the professor spoke four hours a week to 100 students who listened and took notes. The mode of learning was auditory, except for an occasional overhead slide or video. Dr. Pilgrim began incorporating web-based materials into the class four years ago. By Fall Quarter, 1999, he placed much more focus on visual and kinesthetic learning modes by using online materials and computer technologies. Nearly all materials for the course, including the syllabus, lecture summaries, assignments, sample exam questions, diagrams and charts, etc., were provided to students via the Web only. The current design of the course now allows students to see websites that pertain to media and hear audio and video clips (e.g., NPR, Native American radio, or video from CNN).
Student engagement in the learning environment is more likely to occur when the environment engages different learning systems (Nash, Edwards, Thompson, & Barfield, 2000). Psychological research suggests that using different pathways improves recall of the material to be learned. Researchers theorize this is because of the dual-coding hypothesis (Paivio, 1969; 1971) which postulates that audiovisual information is stored in memory in two separate codes, one verbal and one visual, while text information is stored as a verbal code only. By using more than one channel to code information, people are more likely to recall the information. By tapping into more than one of these systems, learning can be reinforced and deepened.
Small-group online discussion. Dr. Pilgrim believes that frequently articulating thoughts and sharing them in written and dialogue form enhances learning. For this reason, the use of small-group online discussion can be effective, especially when coupled with written responses to videos, short-answer questions on exams and a final take-home essay exam. Dr. Pilgrim divided the class into groups of 10 students and posed discussion questions to each group. Students posted their answers and replied to other students' comments, forming active, online conversations. A structured online discussion forum, more so than the traditional classroom, allows students to reflect upon their own learning (Palloff and Pratt, 1999). "By encouraging students to engage in the self-reflection related to the learning process . . . their ability to make meaning is greatly enhanced and the learning outcomes become deeper and more permanent" (p. 134).
Quite simply, online discussion groups allowed students a level of written communication ("dialog") not possible in a traditional four-day-a-week lecture format. The format allowed students to make thoughtful, reasoned comments because they could post them at any time from anywhere after their own "proper" amount of reflecting. Dr. Pilgrim also experimented with some web-based exams and a live, webcast election project, where 50 freshmen students also enrolled in a linked seminar delivered their written product via streaming media technology (Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment, 2000).
Quantitative Data. Two questions were given as part of the end-of-the-term assessment that were quantitative in nature: One asked students to rate how much Journalism 190 increased their ability to critically evaluate mass media; the second asked students to answer "yes" or "no" to whether or not they had previously taken a media literacy class. The most recent assessment was given to 84 respondents on Dec. 5, 2000. For question 1, an overwhelming 94 percent of 84 respondents gave a rank of 4 "much" or 5 "very much" regarding how much J190 increased their ability to critically evaluate mass media (see Table 1). The average rank was 4.26. Eighty-percent responded "no" to question 2.
Qualitative Data. Anecdotal and written evidence as to the effectiveness of Dr. Pilgrim's work exists in written form: final essays, student evaluation comments, e-mail feedback forms, in-class written responses and online discussion comments, oral comments to Dr. Pilgrim, e-mail from former students, and a student self-assessment, given at the end of the term. From the latter (administered December 5, 2000), students were asked, "What has been the most important thing you have learned in J190?" As shown by the representative responses (see Table 2), there was a demonstrable pattern of enhanced critical awareness of media and its role in our society. Evidence of retention of learning comes in the form of comments and e-mail from former students, along with numerous requests for course materials used, such as videos and books to be purchased for friends and family. However, a review of the written comments by students over several quarters suggests that students are able to grapple with more complex questions (e.g., what is the effect of advertising on culture and society; what impact does media have on the political process) earlier in the quarter.
Table 2. Journalism 190 Dec. 5, 2000/Self-Assessment
Question 3: What has been the most important thing you have learned in Journalism 190?
"Self conception, ability to think freely."
"To view ads differently than before, more critically."
"The most important thing I have learned is to not take everything that's fed to me because there are other intentions than trying to inform viewers. The people in charge of media face pressures, such as corporate owners that influence what's written or exposed."
"Maintain my sense of individuality by thinking critically of all the mass media product(s). I have learned to find the meaning, message or image behind an article or ad and determine the value of this information individually."
"To not take what we see and hear in the media [at] face value. We need to look under the images and attempt to find the REAL core to news."
"The influence media has on our society -- most people don't notice the high impact -- I haven't noticed before this class."
"How to look at media objectively, and being encouraged to ingest different kinds of media to get the whole picture."
"To question images seen on TV & in ads, remain an active citizen, find alternate forms of media."
"To look at everything with an open mind (don't believe everything I see)."
84 total responses
Dr. Pilgrim's more skills-oriented course, Journalism 309, Editing, is a course that teaches the concepts and application of editing across media. In the same time period that the Journalism 190 class was transformed, Dr. Pilgrim changed the Journalism 309 course from the traditional lecture and "cut and paste" approach, (complete with pencils, rulers and hardbound dictionaries), and implemented an electronic approach, one which involved more visual and kinesthetic learning.
Students are increasingly taught with a "tell, show, and do" approach using computer software such as Adobe Photoshop, Freehand, and Quark Xpress. This format better allows students to place photos, illustrations, and text onto a "page" in an electronic file (projects include newspaper, magazine or web site pages) that Dr. Pilgrim can use for illustration and class critique. Students also use online reference sources from around the world to check facts or obtain missing information. In this very visual and kinesthetic, experiential way, students learn the concepts of editing within the walls of the classroom, with immediate instructor and peer feedback.
The level of learning is evident in a review of student projects kept by the professor, with the student projects from recent quarters exhibiting increasing polish and sophistication. As evidenced by the success of former students in obtaining editing positions and e-mails from graduates and former students, students are more likely to complete the program at WWU.
The Introduction to Mass Media course deals with content that directly affects the lives of students, since they are surrounded by media, indeed drowning in it, daily. Quite naturally, if materials that increase knowledge of that environment are presented in a visually stimulating way that encourages students to explore their own thinking about it, they will react strongly and quickly. Students use the course web site to review facts about mass media structure and effects (e.g., a handful of large corporations control most American media; advertising plays a crucial role in America being a consumer society; women and minorities are stereotyped in media and symbolically annihilated; media can be successfully manipulated by politicians, etc.), along with an exploration of web sites that track media mergers, content, and social and cultural effects. All these materials motivate students--to the extent that Dr. Pilgrim is often stopped on the street by former students to say they still recall class content.
The motivation also shows up during classes in final essays when students argue ways to improve media in the nation. Many of the students who become journalism majors are motivated to do so after having taken the mass media course. A review of the comments in online discussion groups reveals that intellectual curiosity has been stimulated, with students searching intently for potential answers for making mass media become a better solution for society's problem of how to communicate en masse. Popularity of the course is a partial indicator as well--in the last several years the course has moved from being offered once a year to 60 students to now being offered each quarter to a total of over 300 students per year.
The Editing course has received feedback from former students similar to that given by J190 students. There have also been numerous positive comments by newspaper, Web site, and magazine employers, who all praise the ability and creativity of students who took the course. The class is required for those who are majors, so motivation to succeed is pre-existing, but pride in seeing class work projected immediately via computer to a big screen and receiving positive comments from classmates and the professor increased that motivation.
In the J190 mass media course, student thinking ability develops in a manner that is best called "critical thinking." It is creative to the extent that students are able to critically detect "news facts" in stories appearing in regional and national print, broadcast, and online media, and then use their newly developed thinking ability (based on class-learned knowledge about media economic structure and pressures, priorities, and values) to "re-construct" the news facts and arrive at an independent version of the meaning of these facts.
This ability to think in a creatively independent way and not be swayed by the apparent media consensus resulting from "pack journalism" (media focusing on the same stories in the same way) is sometimes defined as media literacy. Data supporting this comes mostly from written comments in the online discussion, short written responses to video clips viewed, and final essay projects, along with the stream of e-mails indicating that students continue to think critically about media and often try to influence its power structure.
"Dr. Pilgrim said you will not look at the media the same way after the class and he was right. The class teaches you to spot things that usually go unnoticed, like a Coke can in the background or what kind of candy ET eats. These are product tie-ins that people don't know about. Also when you hear about minorities and women being misrepresented in movies it is easy to not believe it, but after seeing as many examples it's hard to ignore the truth."
--J190 student comment, Nov. 16, 2000
In the J304 editing class, after seeing examples of other students' work, including those from the previous two, three, or four quarters, students develop an ability to bypass elementary errors (e.g., too colorful a Web page, one that has minuscule images, etc.) and attain a higher level of creativity and apply design concepts in original ways. Seeing Web pages from around the world that the professor uses to illustrate a point about color theory often sets off a whole new flurry of creativity that prompts risk-taking in design, and results in a breath-taking project.
As part of Dr. Pilgrim's teaching process, current students also use projects by former students for comparison and contrast. The creativity may also be seen by looking at placement of WWU journalism graduates. Many of them do not go to traditional newspaper or broadcast jobs. Perhaps because of their design, writing, and critical thinking skills, Microsoft is the single largest employer of journalism graduates.
Dr. Pilgrim's use of technology to help facilitate learning (also by using differing levels of complexity such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation) and to make greater use of the visual and kinesthetic (doing) modes of learning do not stop at his own courses (he uses the Web for all of them, including language structure and honors classes on such topics as privacy). The Journalism Department has become one of the most technology-literate departments on campus. Because of this, the Computer Science Department formed interdisciplinary ties to the Department and its classes, such as Dr. Pilgrim's Editing class, in the form of an Internet resource certificate.
Dr. Pilgrim claims no correlation between his role as an "early adopter" of technology in a quest to improve student learning, and the technological advances embraced by his department. Nevertheless, in the last four years, the Journalism department has engaged in much heavier use of computers and the web in both classes and student publications. Web sites and their use in classes are becoming the norm in the Journalism Department. A colleague worked with Dr. Pilgrim to move the editing course from pencil to mouse and from paper to screen. Department professors now routinely use computer projection and Web research by students to gather information and to check facts; and, the class on the student newspaper invites guests to help them explore computer-assisted reporting. What's more, the photojournalism class uses some of the same software and digital cameras first used in the editing class.
Today, there are no more trays filled with chemical fixer and developer and the cameras are now eagerly sought by students for use in project and student publications. In the spring of 2000, Dr. Pilgrim was delegated by his department to attend a workshop on visual journalism at the Poynter Institute, and has since worked with colleagues to incorporate some of the training he received into department course design. In addition, a new track in online journalism has emerged in the last two years, and Journalism faculty (including Dr. Pilgrim) are meeting to devise advanced courses for that, as well as editing.
Finally, some of the technological innovations espoused by Dr. Pilgrim are having a tangibly "concrete" effect: the university named the Journalism Department as one of three technology-intensive departments to create new "synergy" in a multimillion dollar communications building, set to open Fall 2002. In it, the Journalism Department will triple its fully mediated classroom computer labs, complete with online capability for video and audio streaming. As the department representative on the committee, Dr. Pilgrim has helped to conceive and plan this endeavor.
Bloom, B.S., Hastings, J.T. and Madaus, G.F. (1971) Handbook on Formative and Summative Evaluation of Student Learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment. (2000). Election Project 2000. [Online] Available at http://www.wwu.edu/~election.
Nash, E. B., Edwards, G.W., Thompson, J. A., & Barfield, W. (2000). A review of presence and performance in virtual environments. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 12(1), 1-41.
Paivio, A. (1969). Mental imagery in associative learning and memory. Psychological Review, 61, 179-211.
Paivio, A. (1971). Imagery and verbal processes. New York: Holt.
Palloff, R., Pratt, K. (1999) Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.